BROOKLYN, Mich. – After four drivers posted laps of over 200 mph during a morning test session, Greg Biffle was asked if the fast new track at Michigan International Speedway might be good for the sport.
"Certainly this doesn't hurt us," Biffle said. "We don't want to kill anybody, either, so we've got to walk that fine line of killing people and creating excitement."
After being repaved in the offseason, the two-mile track at MIS was the talk of the Sprint Cup drivers Thursday. A NASCAR official said after the morning session he expected speeds to decrease before too long, but that didn't happen in the afternoon. After four drivers exceeded 200 mph in the morning, seven did it during the second test session, including Tony Stewart, who set the day's standard at 201.896 mph.
The track record for qualifying is 194.232 mph, set by Ryan Newman in 2005. All 43 drivers surpassed that speed Thursday afternoon. Qualifying is Saturday for Sunday's 400-mile race.
"What we saw this morning is probably, for speed, the best shape that the track will be in. As they continue to run and lay down rubber, and the other series that will run here throughout the weekend, the grooves will widen out," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition. "Maybe qualifying will get back to there, maybe. But for the most part, it will continue to slow down from here."
Pemberton said restrictor plates weren't in the plans.
"We have equipment with us everywhere we go," he said. "But no, we're not looking for plates here."
The quick track is one of several subplots heading into the weekend. Kurt Busch is back from a one-week suspension for verbally abusing a media member. This also is the fourth anniversary of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s most recent win, which was in Michigan on June 15, 2008.
Earnhardt is second to Matt Kenseth in the points standings.
The Sprint Cup was at Pocono last weekend, another recently repaved track. That race included a flurry of pit stop speeding penalties. There were 22 violations Sunday, stretching from Jimmie Johnson to J.J. Yeley. Drivers and crew chiefs were confused, and some insisted there had to be a malfunction in the timing loops that track speed.
"I don't think I have had a clear explanation following the race," Johnson said. "It would be nice to have pit road speeds broadcast so that we could try to understand where and why and how we get in trouble."
Sprint Cup Series director John Darby was less than sympathetic.
"It's the competitive nature of Sprint Cup racing to get every single squeak from every single corner that you can, to win races," Darby said. "If I can get an advantage of you by playing with the police a little bit, and hoping I don't get caught, then I'm going to do it."
This weekend, it's the speeds on the track that will be interesting to watch. No driver on this series has qualified at over 200 mph since Bill Elliott in 1987 at Talladega.
"It's been quite a rush for the drivers," Johnson said. "To be on track and to go this fast and to run an average lap time of over 200 mph, you certainly feel the speed and the comfort is there. This asphalt-and-tire combo seems to be decent."
There is a point, of course, when 'a rush' becomes fear.
"We feel it. In this generation of driver, racing safety measures have taken off a huge portion of that," Johnson said. "Where we come to a racetrack knowing that our cars are designed for this and the walls are safe and we have the proper safety gear inside. When you are in the car, there's moments your senses tell you where your car is and if you can push harder or not. If you are lucky enough to feel the uncomfortable balance before it takes off, you can scare yourself a few times prior to crashing.
"If you don't feel it or it happens too quickly, usually when you are sideways is when the fear hits you."